The Deep Questions in Cinque Terre

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Cinque Terre was one of Chris and I’s favorite places when we visited Italy the first time. I mean, just wow…

Last time, we were here in November and there was nobody around. It was crazy packed this time, but still gorgeous. We stayed in Levanto nearby and our view was just right.

The view from the terrace of our Airbnb

In the old days 🙂 you could just walk the trail between the 5 (Cinque) towns. Now it is a park and you have to pay a fee and it is a long line of tourists. But, still gorgeous.

I think if we went again though, we would stick with April or October – but it’s significantly colder then.

All along the way, you see olive and lemon trees. Ella somehow received a dose of lemon in the eye here.

We will be home soon and everyone is smiling a lot, especially the kids. We have been reminiscing and thinking about our experience. We wanted to share some of our thoughts on a few questions we were asked below, mostly from Chris and I’s perspective.

Did you have any expectations about travel that ended up being different?
You don’t see many families traveling longterm. You see a lot of single young people, essentially traveling alone and hooking up here and there with friends. There may be a strong reason for that, other than just your lack of obligations and commitments back home. Traveling while accommodating 4 distinct wills is really hard. Especially, when those 4 distinct wills are so comfortable with each other, that the regular niceties are a thing of the past. You know what I mean. If you’re hiking with your friends and your feet are killing you – you just deal. But if you’re with your spouse or parents or siblings, you let it all out. If your friends all want to eat Asian, but you are sick of it, you just suck it up. But not so with those closest friends and family. You might pitch a fit.

We waited till this time in our family’s life to travel longterm for several reasons. First, it takes a long time to save up this much money. Second, we wanted the kids to be old enough to do some significant hiking, and they rock at it now – although they don’t always love it, but who does? Third, we didn’t want to go when they were in high school. We felt their connection to friends, possible romantic relationships, and other activities might be so strong at this time, it would make them more resentful of the travel, if they didn’t want to go.


But teenagers are strong-willed we all know, and traveling with school age kids (6-11) is just way easier. They usually just do whatever you have planned. As long as you make sure they rest and get fed, they’re good to go – or at least ours were on our 3 week travels. Schooling for school age kids is also amazingly easier, just give them a Junior Ranger booklet and call it a day. Visit a museum, let them play for hours, and go home feeling like it was a good day of learning. But with teenagers it is a constant battle to get school done and keep them caught up.
And, how many couples spend the entire day together every day for 5 months? Not any I know of; retirement might be close, but I hear a lot of my patients tell me they struggle with this. We knew that all our problems at home would follow us overseas, but they were also magnified dramatically, more than we were ready for really. You think the incredible once in a lifetime joy of what you’re doing will overpower the struggle, but often this is not the case.

It is really hard when it seems as if everyone has to agree on every decision to not have a fight. You just want to go off on your own a few days and not have to ask anyone anything. We do more of this at home than we realize. I know there are solutions and we tried a lot of them – believe me, not the least of which was Walden’s idea: if 3 of us agreed but one person didn’t, that person had to beat everyone at rock/paper/scissors to get his or her way. If not, they had to go along, no pouting or complaining. But it was still a little harder than we thought.

No question though, I would do it again in a heart beat.

Did you have any expectations about certain countries that ended up being different?
New Zealand is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. I could easily spend a year just hiking there. But, I was not prepared for how much the exorbitant prices there would effect our ability to enjoy it. It made every necessary purchase upsetting, and unfortunately put a scar on what otherwise would have probably been at the top of our highlights.

Cambodia was so much poorer than Thailand. The first day there was shocking and heartbreaking. Begging, illness, brokenness were everywhere. It was overwhelming. You felt like, how can I be here unless I’m trying to help? Then, there was the mafia-like businessmen, looking to control everyone and everybody for another dollar. It was just way worse after being in Thailand, which I know has it’s problems, but was no where near as foreboding.

The kids actually preferred Eastern to Western Europe, which was a surprise. The prices were great, way fewer tourists, the locals were fun and welcoming, and the sites were still really cool.

Olive Trees

Did you have any expectations about events or experiences that ended up being different?

-Chris would say his experience of hiking the Annapurna Circuit. He knew all about it and unfortunately for him, we were just along for the ride. We imagined hiking in the Himalayas and visiting the villages, meeting the people and gawking over the beauty, as well as managing no showers or familiar food for a few weeks – but we were excited to do it. Chris knew all the details and planned for us to cross Thorong La Pass. He knew the alternate, longer, more scenic, and harder route he wanted us to take that was similar to the original. Chris had imagined that all would go well, but when problems started happening – food poisoning, frigid cold nights, anaphylaxis, and altitude sickness – it was hard to change his vision of completing the pass. We were all a little caught off guard, because in the beginning we hadn’t even know about the pass. We had some rough days at the end of this, him adjusting to giving up his vision and us understanding why he pushed back so hard.

-I love Robin Williams quote in Good Will Hunting to Will, “But I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling; seen that.” He says it with such awe and adoration. It is amazing when you think about how it was done. I mean having to paint on wet plaster looking up from scaffolding for hours, days, months, and years, four to be exact. With plaster dripping in your eyes, and putting aside what you loved the most – sculpting – to make the Pope happy. Unfortunately though, I have been twice now and I still only get a bad feeling when I’m there – and I tried really hard this time. In 1508, Pope Julius 2 basically insisted Michelangelo do this. He was punishing him for abandoning the Pope’s personal tomb construction earlier. Michelangelo said he would only do it if he could do it his on way, but he was still angry and resentful about it. Michelangelo has the whole internal torturous thing going too with his Medici background and all the scandals of the papacy in these days. His brooding apostles and focus on the terror of the Old Testament just makes me feel hopeless, as I wonder if he did while he did the work. I don’t see how it would ever help people think God loved them. How could they see him any differently with paintings like this than the other Greek Gods that fickly tormented their lives? Twenty-three years later, Michelangelo also did the altar wall, which was after the Protestant Reformation and the mood in Europe was different. The Catholic Church had become more strict to fight back against the Reformation and the mood is even darker. This ripped, white European Jesus is just not what I hope for in eternity. I hope Michelangelo found his own peace before he died.

By the way, if you’re looking for a romantic getaway or just a family holiday, Cinque Terre is the place and we definitely recommend staying with kind Franco and his family.

He is a classic Italian gentleman.

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